Faces Places NZIFF Review
From its animated title openings and closings, it's clear that Faces Places is something a little bit different.
Following 88 year old French film-maker Agnes Varda and young photo-muralist JR, the documentary has a light touch to begin with that's as infectious as it is entertaining.
With the idea of heading around villages and meeting people (and in the latter half of the film, heading more into Agnes' past) in a truck that prints out murals of the photos of people they meet, Faces Places becomes a document of the ordinary people and the extraordinary stories they hold within.
It starts with a series of poetic beats almost in line with Dr Seuss as the duo discuss how they did not meet, before settling on its genial road trip MO. With Varda's dual colour hair (a Beatles mop top which is all white, tinted around the edges in brown) and the beanpole JR's refusal to take off his sunglasses and hat, it's clear this is a pair for the ages - and as their working relationship and burgeoning friendship blossoms, it falls into a very watchable rhythm.
Set against a backdrop of capturing moments for the ageing and blurred-vision Varda so that "they don't fall down the holes in my memory", there's a poignancy leant to the film which is stirring to the emotions. A sort of daytime Banksy and OAP vibe seeps through and it's contagious.
But it's given a great deal more heart when it allows the celebration of ordinary people to sing out. From the sole occupant where miners used to swarm in an abandoned village to a waitress whose fame increases after she's plastered on the side of a building, it's the smaller moments which excel in this. It's a reminder of everyone being special in some kind of way and committing that to the ages.
However, in the latter parts of the film, the focus switches onto Varda.
Perhaps with JR being deferential to his subject and realising that she needs to be celebrated, he takes pictures of her eyes close up and toes, and uses those as a subject. And as Varda's visits to her past propel the greater edges of the doco, it becomes a more intimate piece that perhaps jettisons some of the joy for a more personal melancholia and acknowledgement of mortality.
Ultimately, though, its final sequence, featuring Jean-Luc Godard feels contrived and while there's no doubting Varda's emotions at this point, the set up and its resolution feels a little contrived, a kind of punchline to a story that could be seen a mile off.
Yet, that's not to detract from the wonder that Faces Places solicits throughout.
In an irony that Varda's eyesight is failing her (a tragedy on many levels), it's the vision of what's begun that shines out here. Granted, there's plenty of joy throughout, and this is a friendship that bubbles with the respect and tensions that the best friendships have.
Faces Places is a tour de France that, for the most part, excels.